GLEN COVE, NY — From 1787 to 1848, the United States
rapidly expanded westward. In two generations, it grew from a small
nation on the Atlantic coast to a continental nation. Men who owned
small farms had multiple sons, each of whom created his own farm from
the wilderness. Plantation owners in the tidewater south created more
plantations in the Mississippi Territory so each of their sons could
live like they did. Cattlemen increased the size of their herds and
ranches so each of their many sons could follow in their footsteps.
In this process, they were obeying God’s command to be fruitful
and multiply and have dominion over the earth.
We had no reason to fear immigration. Our native population was growing
fast enough to protect us. By 1836, the Mexicans were afraid of American
immigration. Our expansion brought us into conflict with our neighbors,
but we kept moving westward — and we prevailed.
The British and Canadians wanted us to stay east of the Appalachians,
leaving large parts of the Midwest to the Indians. Instead, we settled
Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee, and we acquired the great expanse between
the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains from France. In the War
of 1812, we made it clear that we would settle the entirety of the
Northwest Territory and the Mississippi Territory. In 1819, we acquired
Florida, in part because of Andrew Jackson’s skill as a general
but mostly because we were ready to settle it and farm it and no European
The United States agreed that Texas was Spanish territory, but Spain
then left North America. The Mexicans, who wanted the area populated,
initially welcomed Americans to Texas and gave them a certain amount
of autonomy. Eventually, Mexican suppression of the liberties of Texans,
however, led to all out war. Texas quickly won its independence and
was a republic until it became a state. This development changed Mexican
attitudes, and the Mexican government stopped the legal immigration
of Americans to Mexico shortly after Texas gained independence.
Part of Mexico’s original boundaries corresponds to today’s
Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, and Utah. This mountainous land
was not easy to patrol. Americans known as mountain men moved into
this area and made their living by trapping and hunting. They largely
lived without the usual structures of government, except informal rendezvous.
As much as Mexico wanted to stop American expansion, it was unable
to do so. In the meantime, more and more Americans were coming into
Northern California from the Oregon Territory. Demography was guaranteeing
a bicoastal United States.
When Texas entered the United States in 1846, Mexico started a war
along the new state’s western border. In the same year, California
declared its independence and was annexed by the United States. An
ugly war, which lasted until 1848, ended with the United States establishing
its borders close to where they are today. The United States respected
the property rights of all Mexicans in the new American territory.
How did the United States expand across an entire continent so quickly?
A military explanation is inadequate. The answer lies in our national
character. We were not addicted to the status quo, we loved the adventure
and liberty of the frontier, and we had lots of children. We wanted
our children to have what we had. We were growing and spreading because
this was our national character. We were doing what God commanded in
Genesis. We also welcomed immigrants because they did not present a
problem to our native population.
Today, the situation is quite different. We no longer seek to expand.
We throw bureaucratic impediments in the way of developing Alaska.
Much of the West is owned by the government and unused. We fear, rather
than welcome, immigrants, and many immigrants fail to respect us. If
there were any mountain men, we would arrest them for not having permits.
We are content to pass on our property to our only child and do not
seek more for lots of children. Small families and dependence on government
have sapped the elan vitale that enabled us to rush from a small coastal
nation to conquer a continent.
The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2011
by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com.
All rights reserved.
Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the
New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in
many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles
about the law.
See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.
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